Broncos owner backs Nathaniel Hackett amid ‘high expectations’

As rumors about his job status swirled in recent days, Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett received a vote of confidence from perhaps the most important person in the situation.

Broncos co-owner and CEO Greg Penner has stood by his first-year coach — but amid a 2-5 start, Penner noted Hackett needs to improve in the second half of the season.

“I’m rooting for Nathaniel and I really want to see him succeed,” Penner told reporters Friday, according to ESPN. “He’s a head coach for the first time, there’s a lot of new things that need to be put in place and he and I talk every week. I love talking to him about the game and he’s obviously incredibly passionate. But he knows we’re not performing at the level we expect. But we have high expectations for him in the second half.”

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Despite offering support to his beleaguered coach, Penner was noncommittal when asked if Hackett was confident he would finish the season.

“We’re never going to get into that kind of thing,” Penner said. “Again I’m rooting for Nathaniel and I really want him to succeed here. [But] as you guys know, it’s a week-to-week sport and we’re always evaluating things and our aim is to win as many games as possible in the second half.”

Broncos general manager George Payton also weighed in on the matter and took a more defensive tone.

“I believe in Nathaniel. I support Nathaniel 100 percent,” Payton told reporters, according to Denver7. “He’s been in it for seven games as a head coach. The scrutiny he faces is unprecedented. We had four games in prime time so he had to learn in front of the world. He kept the team together. They are connected. He held our building together. And I appreciate how he got through it. …

“Obviously, the results are not there. Obviously not good enough. We all have to get better and that starts with me. I believe in this football team, I believe in the people in our building, the coaches, the staff, that we can turn things around. That’s just seven games. Obviously we’ve been involved in every game and it’s not about that. It’s about winning games and we have to learn how to win football games. don’t do that.”

Hackett was hired a few months before Penner, his wife (Carrie Walton Penner) and his father-in-law (Rob Walton) reached an agreement to buy the Broncos for a record $4.65 billion in June. Shortly after the sale was approved in August, the new ownership group made its first move by signing newly acquired quarterback Russell Wilson to a five-year, $245 million contract extension.

Penner reaffirmed his commitment to Wilson, whose 83.4 passer rating this season is on pace for a career low.

“Russell has won a lot of games in the NFL, he’s a nine-time Pro Bowler, he’s won a Super Bowl,” Penner said. “Russell knows how to win … I think he can be a great quarterback for us. He didn’t perform as expected, but he’s a fierce competitor and I think he can be a great quarterback for us.”

Penner’s comments come two days before the Broncos face the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, a game that could determine which path his club decides to go down the rest of the season. Denver has reportedly received inquiries about defensive end Bradley Chubb and wide receivers Jerry Judy and KJ Hamler before the Nov. 1 trade deadline.

Perhaps it helps that Wilson is set to return this weekend after missing one game with a strained hamstring. The Broncos are last in the NFL in scoring (14.3 points per game).

“I thought it was going to take time,” Payton said. “Obviously it is, but there are a lot of things we need to work on. And then you have some injuries on offense. Our team tries to learn from each other, our players try to learn from each other. It’s just a lot. No excuses. I have to play better,” Payton said from Harrow School in London, where the Broncos train this week. “The offense is not good enough to win games. The defense is holding us back, but the offense has to play better.”

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